Terming the recently-concluded Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) election peaceful, experts on Saturday laid emphasis on devolution of power to the local government bodies in order to make those more functional.
They also suggested installing voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system in the EVM (electronic voting machine) which enables the EVM to record each vote cast by generating the EVM slip, helping settle many allegations of vote rigging.
They made the suggestions at a virtual dialogue on the just-concluded NCC polls.
Local think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) hosted the online discussion where Planning Minister MA Mannan was present as the chief guest. CPD distinguished fellow Dr Rounaq Jahan moderated the event.
Secretary of Citizens for Good Governance or SHUJAN Dr Badiul Alam Majumder said the recent NCC election was not a controlled election as the role of local administration and election commission in the polls was satisfactory.
The pressure from home and abroad might have prompted the government to hold the polls in a free, fair and participatory manner, he observed.
Referring to the allegation of NCC independent mayoral aspirant Taimur Alam Khandakar regarding vote rigging through the EVM, he said it was not possible to verify the claim with the existing EVM as there was no VVPAT.
"I think the NCC election is unique under the current circumstances and we should learn from it," he added.
Speaking on the occasion, NCC victorious mayor Dr Selina Hayat Ivy said there were many conspiracies hatched against her in the polls but she overcame all obstacles with support from common people.
Running the city corporation under the existing local government structure becomes very difficult due to non-cooperation of the other public entities, she mentioned.
Ivy, the NCC mayor for three consecutive terms, said the government had issued a circular several years ago, asking the authorities of the public service-providing agencies to follow decisions of the respective city corporation.
"But unfortunately, nobody cooperates with us. We hold meetings where the agencies send junior officials who do not have the authority to take any decision. Such meetings are meaningless," she said.
CPD Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan laid emphasis on the willingness of the government in holding an acceptable election here.
It will not be possible for the election commission to hold a free, fair and acceptable election if the government machinery deployed in the polls is not willing to do that, he said.
"Unless there are serious institutional changes in devolving power to the local government bodies, people will continue to face problems. So, devolution of authorities is essential," he added.
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed said the NCC election was a good one as the ruling party candidate was strong enough in terms of personal image and leadership skills.
"That's why the ruling party candidate only relied on people. But the question is if the ruling party nominates such candidates in other elections," he said.
Alongside devolution of power for better functioning of the local government entities, he cited the example of Calcutta city corporation election system where mayor was selected from the elected councillors like the parliamentary system.
Lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon said the main obstacle for a well-functioning local government was the bureaucracy.
"Bureaucrats are not interested in devolving their powers to the local authorities. Without it, local government bodies will not be able to run independently," he added.
Speaking as the chief guest, Planning Minister MA Mannan said many public agencies did not take part in the coordination committee led by the mayor.
"This is a very common difficulty in our government system and the prime minister is well aware of it," he said.
"Devolution cannot be achieved by orders. Devolution will come through evolution and evolution will come through practice," he said, adding that his government was working on it.